Washington DC--the wrap-up
September 30, 2006
Whew. Okay, so on this trip to DC, aside from the business meetings I attended, we visited:
1. Smithsonian Castle & Gardens
2. Smithsonian Air & Space (also watched an IMAX movie there about the Mars Rovers)
3. Smithsonian Natural History Museum (gems & minerals, uh, rocks!)
4. National Archive--saw the Magna Carta, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. The guard told me the worst thing about "The National Treasure" was the had the Declaration in regular light. The room it's in is very dim and they don't allow flash cameras, and the Declaration is so faded you can't even read it. In fact, about the only signatures you can even see are John Hancock's and John Adams, and I really had to get close to read Adams's.
5. Ford Theater.
6. Capitol Tour.
7. Lincoln Memorial
8. Washington Monument--went up in it, too
9. World War II Memorial
10. Vietnam Veterans Memorial
11. Walked around the Ellipse and looked at the White House
12. Walked into the Smithsonian Native American Museum, checked out the cafeteria, decided the food was too weird for us, and went somewhere else. Cool building.
13. National Book Festival on the Mall. Ended up making 3 people very happy by giving them autographed copies of THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK. I'll write more about the NBF at a later date.
14. Saw the Library of Congress
15. Took pictures on the steps of the Supreme Court
16. L & kids went to the National Aquarium, which is inside the Commerce Building (go figure).
That's about it. (Isn't that enough?) We wanted to get over to the Jefferson Memorial, but with all the walking we did it was too much. We bypassed the Korean and World War I monuments, and because we understand our kids fairly well we didn't bother with any of the art museums. We'll have to come back when they're a little older (or without them).
Ate out at some very good restaurants, did a little shopping (I've got a black hooded sweatshirt with FBI across the chest), rode the Metro a lot, and basically had a good time.
And thank God we'll soon be back to our so-called normal lives.
September 28, 2006
Busy. Up around 7, picked up a couple donuts, then caught talks from 8-11:30 or so, predominantly about gov't regulation, Medicare and the status of the lab industry as it interacts w/others. Then I changed clothes and caught the Metro to the Mall to meet L & the kids in front of the Smithsonian Castle for a lunch in their snackshot (expensive, but tasty), a glimpse at Smithson's sarcophogus, then a tour of the Air & Space Museum, then a walk over to FBI Headquarters, which no longer does tours and has all the appearances of an armed bunker with bomb shutters over the entrances, concrete barriers over the drives and armed cops (a lot of them) around the two entrances; a tour of Ford's Theater (disconcertingly across the street from FBI HQ and next door to a Hard Rock Cafe), then over to the National Natural History Museum (way cool) to the gem room, saw the Hope diamond and tons of other stuff, then over to the dinosaur room when we realized time was slipping away, then bailed on that in search of the whale, but gave that up and walked thru part of the mammal room, then took a load off our feet, then hit the Metro back to the hotel, crashed for a while, then out to Hamburger Hamlet for dinner. Now we're crashing.
Sept. 27, 2006
Well, so far today I drove to Detroit Metro Airport (actually I rode shotgun), flew 500 miles or so to Ronald Reagan National Airport, took the shuttle to the hotel in Virginia, got the hang of the Metro rail system, hung out at the Mall, saw the Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, World War II Memorial, went up in the Washington Monument, listened to the CEO of LabCorp talk, followed by a guy from Digene talk, then listened to a panel of lab industry honchos talk about what's on their mind, then met the folks who insisted I be here in the first place.
Then I met my family for dinner at a mexican place and then back to the hotel to figure out how to get the Internet connected--ooh ha! Success.
And for all my whining about missing Bouchercon, I discovered that Saturday on the Mall is the National Festival of the Book, so all is not lost, I may be able to shake hands with some booksellers.
How To Get Published
September 26, 2006
First, let's define "published." I'm going to define it as a non-family member paying you for your work and publishing in print, on the Internet or in some other fashion so people can pay the publisher for the privilege of reading it, or, in the cases of many Internet publications and newspapers, so advertisers can take out ads, which provides publishers with revenue.
By definition, a writer writes. Not wants
to write. Not talks
about writing. A writer writes. So in order for you to get something published, you must write something and complete it.
2. Make it neat.
Contary to what some aspiring writers believe, an editors job is not to "fix" your mistakes. There should be few if any typos, misspellings or any other errors. Ideally your work is so perfect that all an editor would have to do is publish it. (Good luck with that). 1-inch margins, 12-point font in something like Times New Roman, Ariel, Courier. If it's fiction, you want double-spacing. Nonfiction often is written in single-space. I didn't use to do that, but I do now since I turn in nearly all materials as an attached Word file, and the editors can change it to double space or whatever they want with the push of a button. Follow the publisher's guidelines if there are any.
3. Send it to an appropriate editor and publication.
This requires some research. Sending a manuscript of any kind off to the publication with an editor's name attached is a near-guarantee of being relegated to the circular file, or instantly deleted.
4. If you're actually mailing things via the U.S. Post Office, you should include some sort of SASE, although I don't think, in the case of fiction, you should bother with anything more than a #10 envelope with a stamp and your address on it. Your manuscript isn't going to be re-usable if they send it back, so save yourself the money.
5. Be patient.
Editors and agents get tons of stuff. Yours is in the stack.
6. Be persistent.
I'm a fairly big believer in multiple submissions and an even bigger believer in being persistent. Keep sending stuff out until there's no more market or you get an offer.
Okay. Addendum to the above obvious things.
1. Learn to write well.
There's probably some of you who read my materials and say, "Hey, you dyslexic moron, how do you get off saying this?" I get off saying this because I am regularly published and paid for it, ergo, I know how to write well. I have a clean, efficient, clear writing style. It is, above all, effective. Is it elegant and poetic and graceful? On occasion, but that's not the type of writing I respond to so it's not the type of writing I aspired to. It is, above all, effective. It does what I want it to do, which has allowed me to-date to publish several novels, two short stories, and literally hundreds of articles and book reviews. Could it be better? Friends, it can ALWAYS be better.
2. If you're writing fiction, get an agent.
Is this an absolute must? No. There are many fine small presses that will accept unagented materials. I got DIRTY DEEDS published without an agent. But I got a better publisher and a significantly better series of contracts for THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK, et al., with an agent. And if you have any hopes of breaking into the big New York publishers like Random or St. Martin's or HarperCollins, you' pretty much have to have an agent.
3. Do your homework.
This applies to marketing and writing and everything else. With the existence of the Internet, you have no excuse for being lazy. Don't know whether a Glock semi-automatic has a safety or not? Look it up. Don't know what a semi-automatic is versus an automatic? Look it up. Don't know what the capital of Pakistan is or have an idea of the name of its leader is? Look it up. (Islamabad and Musharraf, although I'm sure I didn't spell his name right). Sames goes for editors names, agent's preferences and proper manuscript format. It's at your fingertips. Don't be lazy.
4. Decide what you want.
Do you just want to get published, have a book in print to sell to your friends, assuming you have any? Then consider a POD publisher like iUniverse, where you pay them to print the book. They'll do a decent job, they're not too expensive and yes, you'll have a book there to give Mom. Just don't expect much else.
Do you want to possibly make money from your book, start a writing career, and maybe in the back (or front) of your minds have dreams of making a living as a writer, as a novelist, of finding your book in bookstores, of communicating to readers, of book advances and foreign rights sales and movie options...
Then avoid POD and vanity publishers like they were carrying the avian flu. They will do absolutely nothing for your writing career. It's possible they'll even hurt it, though mostly they'll just be ignored. Look for a publisher who follows my definition at the beginning of this entry.
Are there other guidelines? Oh hell yes. But these are the basics. But you knew all these already, didn't you?
Taking My Own Damned Advice
September 25, 2006
Over the weekend I dealt with some bookkeeping issues involving my mailing lists, the contest [for those readers who don't know, if you enter my mailing list, you're automatically entered in a contest to receive a signed copy of THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK and for one lucky winner, a $100 gift certificate to the bookseller of your choice], and sending out copies of my Derek Stillwater short story, "11 Minutes," which I send to anybody who enters the contest, ie., signs my mailing list. Or hell, e-mails and asks me for it.
Anyway, one of the readers, Richard Cooper, e-mailed to tell me he liked it and commented that he didn't know how he was going to find time to work on his thriller, etc. I told him to try a page a day, that when I used to get real busy, I would convince myself, no matter how late at night, hey, just go down in the office and write one page. It'll take you 10 or 15 minutes and you'll be done. One page a day, 365 pages a year, it adds up, go ahead, maybe you'll get in the groove and find yourself writing 5 or 6 pages, or maybe you'll get one page done and that'll be that, go to bed.
Well, recently I've been swamped with work (a good thing for a freelancer) and I'm trying to finish the final draft of ANGELS FALLING and finish the rough draft of the Lab Industry Strategic Outlook 2007 and a variety of shorter pieces, and the novel I'm tinkering with (a medical thriller) has gotten left in the dust. And yesterday I thought:
Mark, follow your own damned advice. Write one page.
So I did. And it stretched to 2-1/2.
I also spent time working on ANGELS and the LISO, but I managed to get in those 2-1/2 pages on the WIP.
So yeah, it does work.
September 22, 2006
Over on Joe Konrath
's blog, he has a good post about finding time to write. I weighed in on my opinion, which essentially is that if you want to be a writer you'll find the time.
Back in the day I often wondered what fulltime novelists did with their time? Because since I was able to write unpublishable novels in less than a year while working fulltime, what did they do?
Actually, I still sometimes wonder, at least when it comes to the really top-level folks who make tons of money off writing a single book a year. Stephen King has suggested that people who spend 5 years or 10 years or 20 years to write a novel aren't really writing, they're dicking around. I'm inclined to agree, although everybody's situation is different. I figure even an incredibly slow writer should be able to put together a decent page a day, and a publishable novel will be done in a minimum of two years. When I do book talks I note that a page a day is 365 pages, which is a novel. So there is that discipline thing going on.
Now that I'm a fulltime writer, it seems to me that I'm busier than ever and sometimes the novel writing gets shoved to the back (like today, I suspect). Of course, the Internet and blogs have created an entirely new level of distraction and time-wasting, but still, I'm awfully busy. As I mention a bit in Joe's blog, I'm trying to wrap up a booklength non-fiction business report. I'm trying to finish up the final draft of ANGELS FALLING. I've got an article due today, and I'm doing the third interview for it this morning. I've got 6 short news articles to write--one interview scheduled for today, so I'll write one of them, hopefully I'll be able to do a couple others, I've got an interview scheduled for a second article that I'm hoping to finish early next week before I head off to Washington DC, I've got an interview scheduled with the local paper to promote THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK, I go to the gym today, I've been dabbling in another novel that I don't seem to be getting any work done on, I've been starting research for the 4th Derek Stillwater novel, and the technical journal I edit...
Anyway, the point here I guess is that if you want to be a writer--no, let's get to "the heart of the matter" as Barry Eisler
says. If you are
a writer, you write. Writer's write. Period. If you don't, you're not a writer. Simply by definition.
The world seems made up of people who think it would be great to be a writer. What they actually want is to have been
published. And I use that awkward passive past tense on purpose. They think it would be cool to have a book out there with their name on it, or a magazine article, or whatever. They're just not interested in the work, in the actual writing. They don't actually want to be writers, they want to be AUTHORS, or they want to BE PUBLISHED. But they don't want to write.
I love writing. I love writing far more than being an AUTHOR or a WRITER, althouh I love those both as well. But I actually love the act of writing, and so pretty much from the time I discovered it, I have done it... regularly, obsessively, joyfully. Some people suggest it's discipline. Maybe. Maybe now, anyway. I'm inclined to believe it started out as pleasure and became habit.
Just a final note. THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK, which comes out in about a week, was written primarily in long-hand on legal pad during my lunch hour my last year working at Henry Ford Hospital. And it wasn't actually an hour, it was a 30-minute break I stretched to 40 minutes or so. When I got around to it during the week--I was busy writing articles and other things in the evenings--I would enter it in the computer, print it out and keep it moving.
So find the time.
Stalking The Elusive Movie Option
September 21, 2006
So, I'm minding my own business... well, no, actually I wasn't minding my own business. I was minding somebody else's business, working on Chapter 11 of my nonfiction book-length business report. But I digress.
My cell phone sang out Bach's "Toccata and Fugure." Hmmm. Nobody calls me on my cell phone. Well, almost nobody. My office is in the basement and the connection is so-so and I have an office phone and...
But I digress.
Anyway, it was Irene, my agent (still get a kick out of saying that, although I say it sometimes with a deep sigh of despair... but I digress in the middle of my digression...) and she said, "Is this a good time to talk? You're not in a meeting or anything, are you?"
I hate meetings. It's a good thing I'm a freelance writer who works alone in his basement. The only meetings I attend involve my office manager and his daily walks. What was Irene thinking? If I was in a meeting, it would have been a teleconference and I would have been on the phone, well, not on my cellular phone, but...
"No, no meeting. What's up?" I'm thinking, you just sent "Dancing in the Dark" out to five or six publishers on Monday. We haven't heard anything back from them by Wednesday. They haven't even got it yet.
She says, "How's working coming on ANGELS FALLING?"
ANGELS FALLING is the third Derek Stillwater novel. It's due sometime in December (I think. There was some postal issues with the contracts and the advance, and I don't actually have a copy of the contracts for books #3 and #4 in my hand at the moment). I say it should be done soon. I'm doing a final polish, I'm about 250 pages done, have about another 100 to polish off, give or take, but it's essentially done. Why?
"Well, we've got another film scout asking to read it, a production company associated with Sony, and they say the idea sounds fantastic, which sounds promising anyway, can you send it to him?"
Sure, I say. I'll make a PDF of it and e-mail it right off. What's the e-mail address?
Always exciting, although one learns quickly not to hold your breath waiting for these things to happen or, for that matter, to get TOO excited. This is the third or fourth time a production company has asked to read one of my manuscripts, which is three or four times more than they had with either of my earlier books. In fact, as far as I'm concerned, the more the merrier--the more producers that read it, the more likely it is one of them will option one of them.
I made a comment to Irene about my reality-check, ie., I have heard that only 1 in 20 books that actually get optioned get produced, and the number of books that get optioned is pretty small anyway. She said, "Oh who cares? I know an author that's made half a million dollars on one book that keeps getting optioned over and over again, but never made into a movie."
I commented back at her that the guy who wrote "Catch Me If You Can" said the same thing. That it got optioned every year for about 15 years before Spielberg optioned it and made it into a movie with Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, and he thought it was a license to steal, because he kept getting $20,000 or so every year from a book he'd written years before.
Then I told her about my wife and I talking about George Clooney and Nicole Kidman, and Leanne saying Clooney would make a good Derek Stillwater, and I said, "Hey, I just read something about him forming a new production company, maybe I should send them a copy of THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK just for grins..."
But I digress.
Talking to Editors
September 20, 2006
Over on Lynn Viehl's
blog, she has a hilarious post about cover art. The first one got me thinking with:What Writers Say to Their Editors About Their Cover Art, and What They Really Mean.
"All I can say is, Wow!"Only because I'm not going to say oh shit, Jesus Christ, or I'm fucked to an editor.***
With my three books, I've been very well treated with cover art. iUniverse, who published CATFISH GURU and is a POD publisher I wouldn't really recommend to anybody because their business model is, well, bullshit (for writers; it works just fine for them), did a terrific job with my cover art, far exceeding my expectations. With DIRTY DEEDS, although people seem to like the cover, I don't, and my editor didn't either. It was the 2nd or 3rd version (2nd one I saw; the first one REALLY sucked), and my editor much later told me she didn't think the artist had a clue what the book was about and they kept asking for different versions before finally just saying, "Okay, that's good enough." Part of the problem there is the pastels, which go with High Country Publisher's thematic model, but don't match the book well.
I'm pretty dazzled by Kevin Brown's cover for THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK. He'll be doing the cover for the next novel, THE SERPENT'S KISS and I'm excited to see what he comes up with. Midnight Ink likes to assign cover artists to writers so all the books have some sort of visual link in a series, so if Kevin hangs in there, all the books covers will be his.
I really didn't plan to talk about cover art. I wanted to talk just a bit about communicating with editors. I say this because yesterday I seemed to be having a hard time pleasing some of them, and I wanted to scream, "You contacted ME, remember? I didn't pitch this stupid assignment to YOU! YOU contacted me with your undies in a bunch and gave me a 2-day deadline for this piece of CRAP!"
Of course, I didn't say that. Instead, I e-mailed back that everything was just fine and I accommodated the hell out every re-write request, even when she would first contact me and tell me how rough it was, then contact me again and tell me, well, now that I've read it all the way through
, it's really not that rough, I like how you did this, and...
Editors are people, too. But it's important to keep in your mind several things when dealing with editors of all stripes.
1. This is a business relationship. Communicate as if it were one.
2. In theory, you and editors want the same things. You want the work to go well, smoothly, and accomplish what it was intended to accomplish.
3. Please an editor, they will send you work.
4. Editors have bad days, too.
5. Editors are very busy. Editing is a job that doesn't really involve all that much sitting down and marking up manuscripts. It's a business/production job (and I'm talking about both book and magazine editors), where they shepherd manuscripts through the production process, deliver invoices to the proper people, push your book in front of the sales people and justify YOUR existence to management (which justifies THEIR existence to management). The easier you can make their job, the happier they'll be.
6. Sometimes they're wrong. Don't be accusatory, but if they're wrong about something, you may try to clarify why you think they're wrong. Just be tactful and don't put them on the defensive. Put them on the defensive, they may not remember why, but they'll remember you were a pain in the ass.
7. Sometimes you're wrong. Yeah, it happens. Writers have bad days, too. It's tough to judge your own work. You can proof a piece a dozen times and still miss something.
So, although it might not be okay to say shit, Jesus Christ or I'm fucked to an editor, feel free to say it out loud in your office to yourself. You'll feel better.
September 19, 2006
I'm not a great believer that the first sentence of a novel should be so amazing it sells the book. But first paragraphs? I just grabbed five books off my shelves, generally favorites. How do they open?Metro Girl by Janet Evanovich
Just because I know how to change a guy's oil doesn't mean I want to spend the rest of my life on my back, staring up his undercarriage.Comment:
Boy, you've just about got the character and her attitude there in one sentence, don't you? Very promising first line.Voodoo, Ltd. by Ross Thomas
The two-passenger car that raced through Malibu shortly after 5 a.m. on New Year's Day at speeds exceeding 82 miles per hour was an almost new Mercedes-Benz 500SL with an out-the-door price of $101,414.28. It was driven with one hand, the left, by the not quite beautiful hyphenate, Ione Gamble, whose blood alcohol level would later be measured at 0.16, proving her to be quite drunk, legally and otherwise, for the second time in her life.Comment:
The first sentence is a bit strange, although not by Thomas' standards. There's such an amazing amount of quirky detail there that one is inclined to continue reading. And if you get to the second sentence, there are so many questions, like: Not quite beautiful? What's a hyphenate? What was the first time she was drunk?To The Hilt by Dick Francis
I don't think my stepfather much minded dying. That he almost took me with him wasn't really his fault.
Comment: I think Francis is the absolute master of the great first line, although this one is only so-so. It's provocative enough. Don't most people mind dying? The second line draws you in. You just known there's a story here."I" is for Innocent by Sue Grafton
I feel compelled to report that at the moment of death, my entire life did not pass before my eyes in a flash.Comment:
I don't think Grafton's first lines are all that dazzling, although they aren't bad. This one, however, is terrific. Obviously the narrator's not dead and even just as obvious, there's a story to read coming up.The Deal by Peter Lefcourt
One of the downside risks of producing your own suicide is that you probably won't get the opportunity to reshoot.
Comment: Leftcourt's "The Deal" is a hilarious look at the movie industry. Probably a little dated now, especially considering the Yugoslavia film production site, but very, very funny. That it starts with a B-movie producer about to commit suicide and his very dry wit about it, is quite captivating. I've always found the tone hilarious, although one friend who read it thought the first part was pretty grim, since it goes on to read:
It's pretty much a one-take business. Barring, of course, a complete disaster, in which case you won't be in any frame of mind to consider the results with any objectivity. You may not, in fact, be in any frame of mind at all. You may be reduced to hanging in there out of pure reflex, your organism metabolizing in spite of your express wishes to the contrary.
Of course, as you read on you find that Charlie Bern has been having money problems, his gardener having cut down his lemon tree so it fell into his pool, and his pool guy patiently picking the lemons out of the pool and piling them up like cannonballs, and complaining about his Mercedes... for some reason, you're pretty sure Charlie's not going to off himself.
Anyway, do they make you want to read them? That's the point, after all.
Are You A Successful Writer?
September 18, 2006Ron Estrada
mentioned Terry Whalin's
blog, so I popped on over and checked it out. Whalin has a lot to say about bestsellers. He interviews Dee Power, author of: "The Making of a Bestseller," and here's a bit from what she says:
"Do you consider authors who are not bestselling to be unsuccessful?
Absolutely not, just having a book published is a major accomplishment. It’s a huge challenge for a new writer to become published, never mind get their book on a bestseller list. It has been estimated that 25 million people in the United States consider themselves writers and only 5% have been published anywhere. Agents have told us that they receive an average of 5000 unsolicited query letters or proposals each year and accept only 11 new clients. Editors have said they reject 99% of submissions. Having a book published by a commercial publisher is a major success in a writer’s life. "
Well, absolutely true. I wonder if aspiring writers reading those numbers are struck by the reality of them or they figure, "Yeah, but I'm as good as they are so I'll be one of them."
I can attest to the fact that persistence and learning your craft (and persistence) can break you through to that 5%. I actually find the numbers about agents' clients to be interesting, because I just read something by an agent suggesting they only take on 1 or 2 new clients a year. And for anybody who's spent time trying to hook up with an agent, you're aware that an awful lot of agents aren't taking on new clients. (So they say. I'm sure if the right manuscript came across their desk they'd take on a new client). I'm sure many successful agents do have limits on clients, especially so-called boutique agencies (only one or two agents). It's one thing to pitch to an agency that has 50 or 60 agents and one that is a sole proprietor. 20 or 30 clients or so for a sole proprietor, especially if most or all are getting published, may be all they want to take on.
I think it's good that writers don't say, "I'm not successful unless I hit the bestseller lists." I've long thought that bestseller lists are the equivalent of getting struck by lightning. The writer doesn't have any or much control over it, the agent doesn't, even the publishers don't (because if they did, all their books would be bestsellers, right?).
Aiming for bestseller lists is a crapshoot, and a novelist who judges their success on that is going to go insane. It's like a journalist thinking they're not successful if they don't win a Pulitzer or an actor not being successful if they haven't won an Oscar (Harrison Ford, anyone?).
Above my desk I have a sign that says: Success is a journey not a destination.
I think that's true. I also think "success" is pretty much up to the individual. You'll probably be judged by the public as successful on the basis of how much money you make, the size of your house, the cost of your car, the expense of your latest vacation, but those are merely subjective yardsticks. If you judge your own success on other people's yardsticks, you're going to be unhappy.
Maybe Charles Schultz had it right: happiness is a warm puppy.
Success might be, too.
Plotting Your Writing Career, From A to...
September 16, 2006
I started posting this as a response on yesterday's blog about James Reasoner and got carried away and thought it might make a good entry in itself.
Well, I wouldn't look to James Reasoner as the model of ALL writing careers.
You might note that Jo Rowling has only published six novels to-date and needn't ever write (okay, maybe just one more) another novel ever again, at least from a financial point of view.
Quality is an issue, of course. That isn't to suggest that Reasoner's books aren't quality. But he's toiling in a bit of a different vineyard than many novelists, and since he's been doing it for a long time, must be pretty happy there.
I remember reading a Writer's Digest article years ago by somebody--and it may very well have been Reasoner--who was making a living, and a decent one, writing category fiction for the Mack Bolan series and others like that, getting advances for each book that were, oh, I don't know, $7000-$12,000, say, and as a result, writing 6 or 7 a year or so.
The next issue of WD, someobody wrote in to talk about what a hack he was and he should be up to $50,000 advances by this time, etc., and I thought, "An unpublished writer thinks they know what's going on out there in the real world. What an idiot."
It's just not that cut-and-dry. Here's an example of two fulltime writers I know. One received a 6-figure 3-book contract, and after the success of those, he's also received another. He's published a lot of short stories, is making a good living. And he wrote a novel in a slightly different genre under a pseudonym (I've read it) and to-date hasn't sold it. He's also written screenplays, I believe, and to-date hasn't sold them yet either. Will he? I think in time he'll do both, but maybe not. [Okay. This is Joe Konrath.]
Another writer friend of mine [Doug Stanton] is quite successful in the nonfiction arena, and he turned an article he wrote in Esquire into a nonfiction book proposal. He got a decent, though not amazing advance, he actually got booked onto talk shows on the basis of the article (not Oprah, but somebody else pretty big), had lots of articles written about him, and HarperCollins, his publisher, reneged on about 300 of its authors contracts, including his, and the book didn't get published. (They tried to take the advance back, too, but he, his agent and his lawyer told them to kiss his ass and he kept the money). Now, he could have folded after such a disaster, but he didn't. He continued to work, and a few years later he wrote another article, this time for Men's Journal, that he thought would be a good nonfiction book, and he wrote a proposal and his agent sold it for $500,000 and a production company optioned it and the book was on the besteller lists for a few weeks. ["In Harm's Way"]
The point I'm making is that if anybody thinks they really have a handle on how to have a writing career and what that writing career's shape is going to be, they're probably full of crap. There's no straight line.
Yes, maybe this writer's career in Writer's Digest could have been different... and maybe not. I think of the vast majority of novelists who make something like $3000 to $8000 per book and complain constantly about how life isn't fair and they could have had a career if their publisher had paid more or they only had time to quit their jobs and write more and I just kind of shrug and think, "We do what we do, right? We choose it and it chooses us and it's maybe better to accept how things are and work to make things how we want them to be."
Well, at least that's what I say on a day when I'm in a good mood. Catch me on a day where the rejections come in the same time the Visa bill does, the check from my publisher disappears into a black hole, my dog barfs on the rug and my sinuses are acting up. I'll be glad to piss-and-moan about the inequities of the world. In the meantime, keep on writing and submitting, because there's not much else you can do to help a writing career.
Yeah, Mark's version of Karmic Activism, I guess.
Makes Me Breathless
September 15, 2006
I popped on over to James Reasoner's
blog today, and in the first paragraph he notes:
"I wrapped it up late yesterday afternoon, my 195th novel. I've already started thinking about #200."
195 novels. Published.
Reasoner writes a lot of category westerns, etc., but this level of productivity is kind of staggering. Well, not "kind of." It's just plain staggering.
I'm a fast writer, and I suppose if my career turned that way, I could probably write 11 or 12 novels a year, especially if they were fairly short. So in 20 years of that pace I guess I could produce around 200 novels. (This is not, actually, a pace or type of writing career I aspire to).
I'd be pretty happy writing 2 or 3 novels a year and maybe a screenplay. (Actually, I'm pretty happy now, writing 1 or 2 a year and 150+ articles, etc). In my "ideal dream" writing career I've written one or two novels a year, possibly one as a series and the other as stand-alones, plus dabbling in scriptwriting. Of course, that's my "dream" career. Bestsellerdom is probably a part of that, although maybe not. There are authors whose careers I envy a great deal.
Robert B. Parker. Although he's currently doing three series, he's had his fair share of stand-alones, and he's written a lot of scripts for TV shows, most based on his own books, but not all. I see his list of books and can't help but turn green with envy.
Stephen King. Well, I don't think I'd want the notoriety or the face recognition, but King's had a pretty astonishing career. 3 or 4 books a year, movie scripts, TV scripts, short stories.
Ed McBain. I'm not sure if McBain ever really hit the bestseller lists, but he's another one where I look at his list of published novels and think, "Now THAT'S a career." And of course, he wrote under pseudonyms and wrote screenplays and plays, too.
It occurs to me that when you come down to it, what I would like from my writing career is probably what most authors want, really. A good chunk of money and the freedom to write a mix of things in different formats. One gets the feeling that Parker's a little bored of Spenser and is investing more of himself in the Jesse Stone novels, but still, he cranks out an occasional western or stand-alone, and still does meetings regarding scripts.
Still, back to James Reasoner. 195 novels?
September 14, 2006
My cable (and hence Internet connection) has been down for about 18 hours, so instead of blogging I should be working, but I'm going to take a few minutes here. First, I recommend J.A. Konrath's
recent post on Ingram numbers. I admit that although I am not obsessed with Ingram numbers--or my Amazon ranking, for that matter--I did call and see what they had to say about THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK. I suppose I should write them down and check again after the book is actually released, but it's sort of heartening to note that the book is already in some warehouses and there have been a couple sales.
I was thinking about numbers because I had lunch with a friend of mine today, Mike Ball, and I gave him a copy of John Ramsey Miller's latest novel, TOO FAR GONE. Mike and John (and Harlen Coben) and a few others were on a panel together at last year's Magna cum Murder, and that's how I found out about Miller, who's a fine writer. He's also a bestselling author. So I wanted to do some math, for my sake as much as anybody else's, to think about how much a "bestselling" author might actually make on their book.
JRM's books are mass market paperback originals. So, his books sell for about $7.99. The typical royalty for mass market paperback, I believe is about 8%. (Always shocking to people who think authors are rolling in bucks). So, let's call it $.64 per copy.
Let's be generous. I have absolutely no idea how many copies John's books sells, so let's go with an even 1,000,000. That's a lot of books, but hey, bestsellers sell lots of books. So many Sam's Clubs, so little time.
If his publisher thought he was going to sell 1,000,000 copies, the advance would have been $640,000.
Well, that's nothing to sneeze at, certainly. I'd be more than happy with that much. (Hell, I'd be wildly, deliriously ecstatic, dancing naked in the streets and shouting Eureka!)
Agent gets 15%.
Now John gets: $544,000. (Agent gets $96,000. Which reminds me of something I just read by Burt Reynolds, where he said his son commented that: "I've noticed that actors have photographs of other actors and themselves on their walls. Producers have Monets and Picassos on their walls. I think I'll be a producer.")
Hey, $544,000 is a significant chunk of change. Of course, let's say the state and federal government have their fingers in John's pocket to the tune of, at least 35%.
So John gets: $353,600. (And pays $190,400 in taxes. You'd think he'd have a town in Iraq named after him or something for that kind of tax contribution).
Well, hey, $353,600 is nothing to sneeze at. I'm sure I could SOMEHOW manage to make that last for a year, you know, by scrimping and savings, cutting coupons and eating a lot of macaroni & cheese...
What's my point, besides John Ramsey Miller is doing a lot better financially than I am?
The point is that the public thinks all bestsellers are millionaires. But it's not true. And although it was noted that George Pelecanos latest book contract was for $1.5 million, it was a 3-book contract, so he gets to make that last over 3 years or so.
Hey, no so. Just doing some math.
September 13, 2006
It's raining frogs again. When I took Frodo out for his walk this morning I counted at least 30 dead frog corpses on the route. Probably well over thirty, and this was a 30-minute walk, so you figure I was seeing a little dead frog every minute. That's a lot of dead frogs. What next? Rivers of blood? Locusts?
It brought to mind yesterday's whine about "Doubting Thomas." I managed to find a few minutes to whine to my wife about my day and felt that most of the issues were pretty minor. (She might have, too, based on her wandering attention). Well, there's the one about my agent and my publisher and the book contracts and the advance that's frustrating the hell out of me, and there's the one about the big client that's driving me crazy, but...
I don't actually have much to complain about. It's glaringly obvious to me that as a writer I'm in a fantastic position compared to most. I'm making a living as a writer and I'm not eking out a living, but making pretty decent money. I'm getting novels published and have a good publisher with good support and an agent that quickly responds to my e-mails and phone calls.
Not much to bitch about, after all. You know, the cup is half full, not half empty, if life gives you lemons, etc, etch, pick the cliche of your choosing.
And besides--I'm not a frog.
September 12, 2006
Doubting Thomas, we are told, refused to believe that Jesus came back from the dead until he got some blood under his fingernails to prove it. The other 10 disciples, the story goes (Judas either having committed suicide by this point or he was thinking, "I am sooo screwed,"), were quite accepting of Jesus' return among them. I'm not sure what that says about the 10, actually. Either they had absolutely amazing levels of faith or they were as gullible, as say, most of the American electorate.
Anyway, I can relate to Thomas these days. I'm going through one of my periodic "I'm a talentless schmuck" episodes, where, despite having a multiple book contract, I doubt if they'll make money, I doubt if they will succeed enough to complete the contract, I doubt if anyone will like them...
Some of this has to do with a nasty review (where the reviewer basically said the book was a fine story, just too bad the guy who wrote it sucked) and a friend who read THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK and said she liked it but...
There's always a "but" isn't there? And of course, you can pretend to shrug these things off, but they still bug you. I tend to brood on these things for a day, then get over them. Today's my brooding day, I guess. Today everybody's a better writer than I am, they have better agents, editors and publishers, write better books, get better deals, and have better careers.
Of course it's all bullshit.
It might have been John Donne who said, "Comparisons are odious," but I'm sure he did his fair share, as well.
I can't speak for all fiction writers, but I suspect I am very much NOT alone in this regard. Robert B. Parker, who after 50 books and tons of positive reviews, you would think, wouldn't take much criticism to heart, but apparently he refuses to read negative reviews--his wife censors them for him. I get the impression Rick Riordan's wife does something similar, although my impression there is he's just uninterested in the Internet thing and his wife is.
We all deal with criticism in different ways, and how we deal with it varies from day to day and week to week, and I can assure you, in my case, I don't usually let criticism bother me. I've got a pretty thick skin and hey, I've had a lot of practice ignoring criticism over the years. Hell, I worked at Henry Ford Hospital Cytogenetics Lab for 18 years--if there's one thing I'm experienced with, it's criticism. I also tend to take criticism of my writing the same way I take praise--with a great deal of skepticism. "Thanks," I said. "Thank you very much." And you say it pretty much whether it's praise or criticism, don't you? Just the tone is different.
So why am I such a doubter today?
Well, blame it on fall. Shortening days, cooler, rainier weather. Yeah, that's it. Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Or maybe it's that many things in life don't matter to me as much as my books. I want to be well-liked, even loved, respected, admired, blah, blah, blah, and I want the checks to clear (damn straight), but I understand that in areas of my nonfiction writing and my personal life, I do what I do quite well and in terms of my personal life, I'm old enough to suspect I'm doing it the only way I can. The fiction, though, that's where my heart lies in many ways, and although I try not to take things personally, I do. At least for a while. Also, as anybody who labors in the fields of fiction, plotting a career is freakin' impossible. We all seem like rudderless ships blowing before whatever wind comes along.
And besides, it's not just the recent criticism. It's the 35 or so mailings that have been returned so far with "no forwarding address" or "undeliverable as addressed" stamped on them. It's the kids returning to school and the inevitable homework returns. It's the recent payment of quarterly taxes and the gap between paychecks. It's ... well, it's life, which sometimes can get you down. Tangled up in shit, or if you prefer Bob Dylan, tangled up in blue.
As for the criticism, well, as my agent, Irene, said about the one I showed her, "Are you familiar with the expression 'bite me'?"
Why Write Novels?
September 11, 2006
Over on his blog, Rick Riordan
has a fabulous transcript of a talk he gave at a writer's conference titled "Why Write Novels?" Here's a taste:
"Wanting to be a writer is a common dream, right up there with owning a restaurant and playing pro sports. About five years ago NPR did a survey of people walking through a Barnes & Noble bookstore in Washington D.C. The question they asked: Do you think you have a novel inside you? 81% said yes. But what separates the idea from the reality? A lot of insanity and a touch of masochism. Writing isn’t digging ditches, I’ll grant you, but it is extraordinarily hard work. We don’t write simply because we think it sounds like fun. It isn’t true that anyone can do it."
It's brilliant. Go read it. Now!
Making A Living As A Writer
September 8, 2006
I'm a fulltime freelance writer, editor, and novelist. That's how I define it when asked and how I put it atop my writing resume. Ultimately I'm just a freelance writer and the editing gigs and novelizing gigs are just part of it. But I do make a living at it and I can say, a decent living. Of course, "decent living" is a relative term. I know people who think anything less than $100,000 to not be a good living, in which case, in their eyes I'm probably destitute.
That reminds me of an interview I once read with Richard North Patterson, who said early in his career his last book had sold only something like 180,000 copies, and he didn't think it was worth it, so he was about ready to quit. His next book became a bestseller. My sympathy for the man dropped sooooo low... I'll be ecstatic with 180,000 copies of THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK selling and I'm pretty sure my publisher would be, too.
Here are some other people who I know make a living as writers: Doug Stanton, Tobias Buckell, Eric Mayer, Mary Reed, J.A. Konrath, Barry Eisler, Lee Child, Jeff Cohen, Lee Goldberg, Paul Guyot, Robert Gregory Browne...
Here's something else I know about most of us: we write a lot of different things. Let's look at that list and take Lee Child and Barry Eisler out of the mix. J.A. Konrath makes a living as a writer and primarily a novelist, although he sells quite a few short stories, the occasional magazine article and, last I heard, did some teaching. He also promotes like crazy.
Doug Stanton is a journalist and writer of nonfiction books. Tobias Buckell, fairly recent to the fulltime freelance game, has published over 25 short stories, 1 novel, and makes a living writing business and technology blogs. Eric Mayer writes (correct me if I'm wrong) a lot for legal publications, as he is a recovering attorney. He's also a novelist with his wife, Mary Reed, who is also a freelance writer, primarily, I think of whimsical journalism/feature type writing. Jeff Cohen is a novelist, journalist, and ghostwriter. He's written 2 nonfiction books under his own name and has ghosted quite a few books under other people's names and he regularly writes for newspapers and magazines, as well as selling the occasional TV script. Paul Guyot wrote for TV's "Finding Amy" I believe, before moving out of the L.A. rathole and moving to St. Louis to write TV pilots, short stories and that novel we're all waiting for him to finish. Robert Gregory Browne has worked in both film and TV, I believe, and is currently awaiting his first novel, KISS HER GOODBYE, to come out in January 2007 (I'm looking forward to it).
Lee Goldberg is kind of my poster child for the point I'm trying to make today. He has written on-staff for TV shows, freelances ("Monk," "Psyche," many others, including "Spenser: For Hire") as a TV writer, has published his own novels ("The Man With The Iron-On Badge" for instance") and writes TV tie-ins for "Diagnosis: Murder" and "Monk." He's also written several nonfiction books and worked his way through college as a freelance journalist for publications like "Newsweek" and, I believe, some of the movie/TV industry trade publications.
And me? I have two books published with the third (THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK) coming out October 1st. I used to review books (The Oakland Press) as well as write features for them. My magazine/trade articles have appeared in publications as diverse as Genomics & Proteomics, BioPerform, Drug Discovery & Development to Mystery Scene Magazine, Bankrate.com, and Lowe's for Pros. I've also written for corporations such as the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute. I'm the editor of The Journal of the Association of Genetic Technologists and am currently working on a book-length business report for Washington G-2 Reports. Although the bulk of my nonfiction focuses on clinical diagnostics, biotechnology and medicine, I've also written articles about plumbing, electricians, personal finance, business management, computer security and a whole plethora of other topics--because that's how it's done.
I think it's a very lucky writer who gets to write a book a year, fiction or nonfiction, and that accounts for the entirety of their livelihood. I hope someday I'm in that position, but I'm pretty happy with the diversity of work I have and it more than pays the bills. I've made more money this year SO FAR than I made yearly working at Henry Ford Hospital in the cytogenetics laboratory (ever), and can only hope that trend will continue. I know the mix for my income varies a great deal. Sometimes I'm doing a lot of editing. Sometimes I'm doing a lot of technical materials. Currently I'm doing a lot of business writing, which is a fairly new area for me, but a lucrative one.
Lawrence Block once noted in a column he wrote that one of the things he noticed about fulltime writers was that they got a lot done. He was commenting at the time that he had a friend who made a big chunk of his livelihood off short stories--and to do so he wrote at least one a week! I typically aim (not quite rationally) for at least three invoices a week when I'm doing straight journalism. The current biz writing has made that unnecessary, but I can tell you, I get antsy if I don't invoice at least three times a week. (And I'm behind this week, I believe, having only invoiced twice. On the other hand, it was my 170th invoice this year!).
I'm not going to sum up. You get the point, right?
Picking Through A Minefield
September 7, 2006
I've begun working on a new work-in-progress, something a little different than my previous books. It's something I hope to have a good 100 pages or so and an outline done by the end of the year (maybe) and then I'll consider seeing if my agent can sell it to somebody. It's a medical thriller. But we'll see. I've got other things going on. Irene is marketing a manuscript of mine under an alias (er, pseudonym) and I'm wrapping up ANGELS FALLING and will need to begin book 4 in my contract. So it's possible this WIP won't actually get finished because I won't have time or I'll lose interest or Irene will sell the Dancing novel and I'll be busy, busy, busy. (Let's hope).
And I was thinking that the first 50 to 100 pages of a novel feel like picking your way through a minefield. It's slow-going. I'm auditioning characters, setting up things, trying to see a different world in a different way. Plus, I might step on a mine and blow up the damned book. It's happened before. And what's worse, some of these are "delayed" mines, the kind you step on and don't realize you've set a timer that's going to explode later on in your book, somewhere around, say, page 237, that will bring everything to a smoking halt.
A lovely writer who's name I forget over on Robert Gregory Browne's
blog responded to me suggesting that books had a beginning, muddle, and ending. Not middle, but muddle, and that straightening it out was part of the job. Yeah, I understand. But if you don't get the beginning right, the entire book gets derailed.
I popped onto http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/wordpress/
and noted that Tobie (Tobey? To?--Yo, To!?) had a link to http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/?p=398
who has an amusing and insightful blog post today about "How To Write A Novel."
One of the things that Tobie mentions is he uses a spreadsheet to track his plots. So does Justine. Tobie is a bit of a tech guru, but you know, I've never considered doing that.
The similarity, though, between our techniques is that halfway through a book I typically have to sit down with a yellow legal pad or on Word and write out the remaining plot points, to make sure I can actually finish the damned thing and tie up all the loose ends. It also helps me figure out if I've got enough story to actually, well, write something of commercial length. There's nothing quite so disappointing as having 150 pages done on a novel to realize you only have 25 more pages of story left. Hey, you've written a novella! Unfortunately, book publishers rarely if ever publish novellas and neither do short story markets, so you've got... squat. Or a treatment for a screenplay.
"How to Write a Novel" is not something I typically write about. I'm willing to write about conflict and characterization and point of view and voice and style, but I'm less inclined to tell people "How to write a novel." One reason is because everybody approaches it differently. (Also because, honestly, aren't there enough books published already? Who needs the competition? Why don't you take up crochet or something? The world needs more afghans. Join Habitat for Humanity. Why do you want to write a fucking book, anyway?) When pressed, I have said:
One word at a time.
The questioner tends to act a bit disgusted at that answer, but hey, I'm sorry. It's true.
I start with a title, a premise, hopefully a character or two. I write. One word at a time, one sentence at a time, one paragraph at a time, one page at a time, one scene, chapter, section, etc.
They built the Great Wall of China one brick at a time and you can see it from the International Space Station.
So that's how it's done.
Oh, and my former agent, Ben Camardi, of the Harold Matson Company, once gave me good advice, which was: Think more, write less.
I might modify that to: Think more, re-write less. But then again, re-writing is part of the gig, too. So although I do tend to start off without a real outline or even a plan, things go better when I think about where I'm going and try to figure out how to get there. Of course, if I'm surprised, hopefully the reader will be, too.
How to Sell Books
September 6, 2006
Over on Paul Levine's blog, http://www.nakedauthors.com
, Paul notes that his publisher has taken out TV ads for his latest book, KILL ALL THE LAWYERS, to run during "Good Morning, America" this week. Now, truth is, since school started up, I have been watching bits of GMA, but my youngest, when not otherwise eating breakfast, flips the channel to watch Spongebob Squarepants or whatever else is on Nick, Disney or Cartoon Network. So, as a result, I've seen no ads for Paul's book.
"I don't know if my fellow bloggers agree, but I think a single appearance on network or cable television sells very few books. Different story if you're saturated on all the networks, plus Larry King on CNN, plus "Fresh Air" on NPR. Which usually means you have the hottest non-fiction book around. (For a while, that meant having "O.J. Simpson" in the title).
How, then, do you sell books...especially if your name is not known to the general public? A great title helps. What's the best title in the history of publishing? I think you'd be hard pressed to beat THINNER THIGHS IN THIRTY DAYS. Tells you all you need to know And alliteration, too. "
It seems that all novelists at all levels of commercial success--and probably all levels of literary success as well, I suppose--are obsessed with this question: What sells books?
Some writers seem to think they have a lock on this: Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath come to mind, although I wonder if the confidence they show to the world is mere bravado on their parts.
Is it book signings? God no, would be my response. They don't sell books unless you're already well known and your book is hot. Even Stephen King noted that, saying something along the lines of, "Sometimes they go well." Janet Evanovich has mongo signings and she hires a band and caters food in, but I'm sure she didn't do that early on. She does that now that a couple thousand people show up for her events, fed (no pun intended) somewhat by the Catch-22 of food and book signings--people show up for the party, not the books. They're EVENTS.
Flashy website? Maybe. Sort of. Good reviews? Hmmm. How many books have you bought simply on the basis of a good book review? Who reads those damned things, anyway? Handselling by a bookseller? Hey, I've heard this, but you know what? I'm 42 years old, have been haunting bookstores with the intention of buying for a good solid 22 of those years and have never, NOT EVEN ONCE, had a bookseller handsell me a book--or even make a recommendation. NOT ONCE.
So what do I personally look for? What makes me buy a book?
Sad to say, but having good display site on an end cap or on the NEW TITLE tables will get me looking at them. Name recognition. What have I heard? (From Mystery Scene Magazine, book reviews, word of mouth, or through some strange combination of all of the above). Flashy cover of some sort. Good title. (By which, Mark muses, the expression, "promisingly lurid" comes to mind).
I rarely read all the way through the jacket copy. If the jacket copy doesn't catch my attention in the first sentence or so, it's useless. Blurbs? Ha! I used to buy books on the basis of a good blurb, but I'm pretty skeptical now. I read blurbs to see if I know the people blurbing and try to figure out if:
1. They're friends.
2. They have the same publisher.
3. They have the same agent.
4. They blurb everything that comes across their desk.
If I'm debating on a variety of books to pick up, the cover (as shallow as that might make me seem) can help. I read the first paragraph or so. That's almost always a tie-breaker. Something about the first bit has to catch my attention. The story, the voice, the style, something. Here, for example, is the first paragraph of "Dead Run" by P.J. Tracy, which is on my bookshelf awaiting to be read:
"Four Corners hadn't been much of a town since October 17, 1946. That was the day Hazel Krueger's father set the Whitestone Lodge on fire and danced naked through the flames in some sort of sorry recompense for all he'd seen and all he'd done in a place called Normandy."
The first sentence didn't do it for me, but the second one sure as hell did.
Now, I've never read anything by Andrew Vachss, although I've been hearing about him for years. I've got his latest, "Mask Market" on my bookshelf and I'll be reading it. Here's the first paragraph:
"I'm not the client," the ferret seated across from me said. He was as thin as a garrote, with a library-paste complexion, the skin surrounding his veined-quartz eyes as papery as dried flowers. He was always room temperature. "You know me, Burke. I only work the middle."
Very promising, that beginning.
So what sells books? Beats the hell out of me. I just hope some of mine sell.
What I'm Reading--This Is Ridiculous
September 5, 2006
I'm reading four books at a time. This is insane. I'll explain:
BAG OF BONES by Stephen King.
One of my favorite novels. Sort of a comfort book. I also have the audiobook, but I never seem to find time to listen to it because I'm not in the car enough any more. Best selling romantic suspense novelist Mike Noonan gets a pathological case of writer's block after the death of his young wife. 4 years later he returns to his summer cottage, which appears to be haunted--by his wife or by something much more dangerous? He also gets caught up in a custody battle between a lovely young woman and the crazy old multi-millionaire father-in-law, who may or may not be possessed by a ghost. I hadn't read or listened to it in a couple years, but got the urge to. Unfortunately, I keep setting it aside to read:
PRIVATE WARS by Greg Rucka.
An espionage novel involving the British and US governments trying to influence the secession plans in Uzbekistan, which is a major staging area for the War on Terror in Afghanistan. I was having a lot of problems getting into this book, but I'm not pretty engrossed. Some of my problems have to do with the acronyms he uses, which are numerous, for various government agencies in at least three countries. Also the politics are difficult, the plot byzantine, the characters numerous... but once you get the hang of it it's pretty amazing.
CRYSTAL RAIN by Tobias S. Buckell.
Sci-Fi of a variety I'm not very familiar with. Takes place on a distant planet populated by people of Caribbean descent. Then the worm holes were destroyed and slowly they lost their technology as they were isolated. There are evil aliens masquerading as gods, and there are the supposed good guys, the Nanagadans (I think) and the bad guys on the other side of the Wicked High Mountainsi (Aztecans) and local militias (ragamuffins) and politics, and the main character, John, is probably from a different planet, but has no memory from prior to being pulled from the ocean. I'm nibbling at this. My brother, a friend of Toby's, gave me the book. I don't read much SF, but reading this makes me wonder why. It's quite challenging in a way that's different from other books I typically read.
THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK by Mark Terry.
Yeah, I'm reading this to proof it for potential reprint changes (fingers crossed). As any author will tell you, it's not that easy to read your own work for the 20th time.
And Take Your Flying Monkeys With You!
Sorry. Couldn't resist. I'm just trying to figure out how to add photos and stuff.
Have a good Labor Day!
Summon the Kraken
September 3. 2006
Labor Day weekend and I'm having problems laboring, which might be the problem, I suppose. I got this holiday backwards!
Saturday was crappy weather--chilly and rainy--and we dragged our sorry butts out to Great Lake Crossing, the nearest mall, to catch Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest for a second time. Now, let's be clear. Oxford has a fine theater and we already saw Dead Man's Chest when it came out. We despise the AMC theater at GLC because, it's, well... expensive and because it's, well, at a mall! And we don't like malls. My wife has gotten damn near pathological about the mall. But off we went.
And afterward we caught a lunch at Wendy's, and by this time I had a headache, so when we finally got home I finished cleaning the house after dosing my brain with Motrin, and we got the solar blanket off the pool before it rained so we could dry it out and put it away for the season. And I planned to put in a couple hours of work and didn't because my head hurt and I was tired and I couldn't get it in gear, although I did finish prepping my mailings so I can go annoy the post office on Tuesday. Then, later in the evening, I transferred my WIP that I've just started playing with onto a flash drive and spent a little time on the couch with the laptop working on it--until the kids brought the ice cream upstairs and needed someone to dole it out, and that interrupted me sufficiently to shut down...
And today we got up late and we had debated what to do about our 20th wedding anniversary coming up in a few days, and decided to go to a local restaurant--Kalloway's--that has an amazing Sunday brunch (though a bit expensive), so we all went there around 10:45 or so and ate way too much, and stopped at Harvest Time to pick up some apples, and I'm downstairs in my office now with the intention of working, but I seem to be dicking around instead...
There's no point here, I'm just wasting time, putting off actually doing some work.
The Terry Manifesto
September 1, 2006
Over on http://www.journalscape.com/keithsnyder
Keith talks today about his creative manifesto, such as it is. It reminds me of years back when I was being represented by New York agent Ben Camardi of the Harold Matson Company. They repped me for 6 years and never sold anything, and I'm pretty sure we got tired of each other. I broke it off, although I suspect he was relieved. Certainly one of the reasons I severed our relationship was the feeling I got every time I sent them a manuscript, a kind of, "Oh Jesus, Not Him Again" kind of thing, although maybe that was just me feeling desperate and what they felt was, "One Of These Days He's Going To Write Something We Can Sell Because He's Good Enough."
Anyway, somewhere along the lines I sent him a letter along with a manuscript with the line: I WILL GET PUBLISHED. Ben told me it sounded like a manifesto, which I later dubbed The Camardi Manifesto.
But I digress. Hey, there's a holiday weekend coming up. I'm allowed.
Keith says, among other things:
"And marketing, Ben. Hook. Nothing says "Marketing gimmick" like a nice fiery manifesto.
I also think of something RZ told me about his analysis of Webern, which is that the really interesting parts were where Webern departed from the rigorous twelve-tone system. Because--RZ supposed--he just thought it sounded better that way.
Manifestos, philosophies... I guess I should have one, but I'm just trying to make a living doing things I'll be proud of after I'm dead. I assume I'll be as tough an audience then as I am now. "
Let's start with the first line. Some irony that Keith is talking about somebody named Ben. I doubt it's the same person, although it's a small world. Actually, it's a big world, but publishing is a small universe. I agree. It's the whole "high concept" thing in a nutshell. Let's all polish our story idea down to a single sentence: Terrorists steal genetically engineered super virus and one man has to get it back before they use it. Okay, that's the high concept for THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK, and it works well enough. So does, "'The Rock' meets '24.'" At the same time, it kind of means nothing. It doesn't tell you about the main character, Derek Stillwater, who drives the story. It doesn't tell you about his neuroses, his fears, his panic attacks, his sense of humor. It doesn't tell you about Liz Vargas...
Next bit about Webern, etc. Look, Keith is a musician and he's talking about a composer who wrote a piece using the 12-tone system. For those of you unfamiliar, there are 12 notes in the Western musical scale. C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, plus the various sharps and flats, depending on which way you're going on the scale. In the type of music we're most used to listening to, the composer more or less picks a key, say the key of C, and uses the 8 notes, more or less, in that key. The 12-tone system utilizes all 12 notes and is, more or less, built on a progression of those notes. It can be cool and it can be discordant. And what he's saying is that the composer wandered off his own system for a while because he thought it sounded better, in other words, went with his gut. Amen, brother. All the theory and insight all us writers claim to have over grammar and style and what makes a story work often comes down to our instincts. And some are born with them, but most of us hone those instincts by reading tons and tons and tons of books and writing and writing and writing.
"Manifestos, philosophies... I guess I should have one, but I'm just trying to make a living doing things I'll be proud of after I'm dead. I assume I'll be as tough an audience then as I am now. "
Keith suggests here that he's concerned about a legacy with his work. I'm not sure I do. Well, maybe a little. One of the first things I do when a book is published is autograph two and give one to each of my sons. Ian might be old enough to read them--he's nibbling at Pitchfork, but Sean definitely isn't. That isn't the point, actually. The point is someday I'll be gone and hopefully my sons will still have copies of my books and that will be a reminder of dad. Hopefully a positive reminder. My father was a photographer, often a very good one, and several of his photographs hang on my walls in my house. A decent legacy, in many ways--because what's on my wall is a brief glimpse of how my father saw the world.
So perhaps my manifesto is slightly more varied than Keith's. Something like:
I'm just trying to make a living doing something I love doing; something that I can be proud of doing while I'm still alive; something that makes me feel alive while I'm doing it.
And I might add: and something that pays the bills with money left over to piss away on pleasures and luxuries.